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Whisky Advocate: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey Stages A Comeback

November 12, 2020

Ireland recently witnessed the opening of its 31st distillery—up from only four a decade ago—and 20 of those are now making single pot still whiskey. This uniquely Irish style ruled the world in the 19th century, and then nearly vanished into history in the 20th. It may now represent the bright future of Irish whiskey.

In the 1980s, only one person in all of Ireland was making single pot still whiskey—Midleton’s legendary master distiller Barry Crockett. Born in the Distiller’s Cottage on the grounds of Midleton, Crockett assumed the master distiller position in 1981, a role once held by his father, Max, who had retired in 1974.

“Back in the 1980s, the easiest option would have been to shut the distillery for half the year and make only the blended volume required at the time,” says former Irish Distillers master distiller Brian Nation, who succeeded Barry Crockett in 2013 and recently left the company. “It’s only thanks to Barry and his father before him that we were able to release the whiskeys we have today. In 1981 when Barry took over, there were stocks, but by the mid-’80s we had much more in our inventory. We had some visionary innovators who saw the future potential of single pot still.”

In recent years, with the commercial success of Jameson in export markets and tastes returning to more complex whiskeys, Pernod Ricard-owned Irish Distillers began devoting more attention to single pot still. Since 2011, it has released at least one new expression every year from its Redbreast, Powers, Spot, or Midleton single pot still labels.

All across Ireland, single pot still is now thriving. At Walsh Whiskey, it’s the backbone of the company’s Writers’ Tears and The Irishman blends. Owner Bernard Walsh, who sold his stake in Royal Oak Distillery last year, now spends his time visiting distilleries and sampling whiskeys to source for his brands, and his Writer’s Tears expression is a unique mix of single pot still and single malt liquids. But he clearly foresees single pot still’s proliferation in the not-too-distant future. “Single pot still is the jewel in the crown for Irish whiskey, and it will take five to ten years for it to really start shining,” says Walsh.

Slane Distillery in County Meath, north of Dublin, filled its first barrel in 2018, and is laying down single malt, single pot still, and single grain whiskies. While it waits for them to mature, it’s offering Slane whiskey, a sourced blend. But founder Alex Conyngham is a true believer in single pot still. “Give us time, and single pot still will become the Irish equivalent of Scottish single malt,” he says. Incoming Whisky Advocate executive editor David Fleming has an in-depth report on the up-and-coming single pot still Irish whiskey segment.—David Fleming

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